OPINION: Scrap the state activities association
It is time to make radical changes to the organization that manages high school sports and student activities in South Dakota.
The current South Dakota High School Activities Association, guided by a largely ineffective, often self-serving board of directors, just does not work.
We prefer the South Dakota Legislature — not a civil court judge — take the lead in this effort. But however it unfolds, change is overdue.
Much attention has been given to the SDHSAA’s recent discussions on maintaining a seven-class football playoff structure and on limiting the number of Sioux Falls students who can play in state tournaments. As outlandish as those efforts are, there is a more serious problem here.
The SDHSAA governing board is structured in a way that defi es fairness. In effect, the students who attend school in Sioux Falls — estimated to be about 20 percent of the state’s public school enrollment — have had no voice on the board since 2000. The structure and constitutional requirements to change that are ineffective, in large part because they allow the smaller schools to control the outcome of any proposed change.
That’s why lawmakers must step in and force changes for the good of all the state’s high school students.
The SDHSAA derives its power from the state Legislature, which instituted it years ago. Lawmakers clearly are unhappy with the organization. This past winter, a legislative move to demand greater transparency from the SDHSAA board of directors — requiring that it meet the standards of the state’s open meetings statutes — passed overwhelmingly.
It’s important to note that the SDHSAA vigorously opposed greater openness. That probably tells you much about the leadership of this organization, which was formed, in theory, to promote and regulate student activities and to provide the best possible experience for student athletes, actors, musicians and others.
Too often the governing body of the SDHSAA has acted more to attempt to boost the economies of midsized South Dakota cities than to achieve a better competitive experience for the state’s young people.
Since various attempts to make representation on the board fairer have failed, the courtroom is the most likely next field of debate. And that’s not a good route for anyone.
It’s time for a change. The Legislature should abolish the current structure, organization and duties of the SDHSAA. In its place, a task force of educators, legislators and parents should recommend a route to a truly representative, forward-thinking organization, tasked with keeping the best experiences of students at the forefront at all times.
In the end, the board might include some appointed members as is done in Minnesota and Iowa. And representation in proportion to population is important.
There are many possible scenarios to consider. Other states have managed to make it work, so blueprints are out there.
It’s unfortunate that in the arena of South Dakota high school activities, too much power has been concentrated for too long in too few hands.
A clean start is needed to end this embarrassment — and the sooner the better.
-Sioux Falls, Argus Leader